Last class.” Sharon smiled. “Was it good for you too?”
“Y’know,” Drew smiled back, “it actually was. I couldn’t believe you signed us up for ballroom dancing, but it turned out to be pretty fun.”
“You should have seen your face the first time you met Dhavesh and Simone.”
“Can you blame me?”
Behind him, the classroom door opened.
“Speak of the devils.”
In tottered the oldest couple either of them had ever seen. Simone was a spindly stick-figure in a ball gown of ancient design. Her white hair (which Sharon and Drew had agreed was probably a wig) was piled high on her head in complicated ringlets above a face like a dried, whithered apple. She held her head high as she walked, but did lean heavily on the arm held gallantly out for her by her husband.
Dhavesh was, if anything, more skinny than his wife. More than a head taller than Drew’s six-feet-two-inches, he couldn’t have weighed more than 150 lbs; just a pipe-cleaner man wearing a suit as old as Simone’s gown. He too held his head high, and managed to give Simone his arm, though he in turn leaned upon a wheeled cart that held what appeared to be the oldest record player in the world.
“Can you blame me?” Drew repeated under his breath. “I mean, look at them. Do they look like dancers to you?”
“No, you’re right,” she sighed. “But you have to admit, when they dance they’re like different people. Younger people.”
“They’d have to appear younger. There isn’t anyone older.”
“Line up, please, so we may begin!”
The voice was rough, lightly accented, and came from the edge of the dance floor where Dhavesh was setting up the antique he’d wheeled in. Drew and Sharon joined the other four couples in a line edging the floor, each man slightly behind his partner, hands on her hips. The ancient couple took up a similar position in the center of the floor. Suddenly requiring no support they stood ramrod straight, chins high, vintage clothing and papery skin reminding Drew of old dance-hall photos.
“Tonight is our last class together,” said Dhavesh, his voice also gaining in strength. “Tonight will be… special. For all of us.”
“Does that mean,” interrupted the man to Drew’s left, “you will finally tell us how long you two have been doing this?”
Dhavesh silently regarded the younger man, dark eyes flashing. After a beat, Simone stepped in smoothly.
“Longer than you would ever believe, my young friend.”
“Though,” said Dhavesh, still staring, “after tonight you may have an idea.” He nodded. “Yes. An idea.” The teachers stalked toward the wheeled cart and the boxy device it carried.
“This is something you may not recognize, but Simone and I started, long ago, dancing to this Victrola. To celebrate this class’s ending you will dance as we danced. Starting with you.”
He indicated the man who had dared interrupt him, then the center of the floor.
“Take your positions!”
The couple walked out on the floor as Dhavesh and Simone took up positions to either side of the antique machine, Simone’s hand resting on the casing while Dhavesh took hold of the hand-crank. He gave the crank a few quick turns and the turntable began to spin. The scriitch of the needle on the moving disk made Drew wince, and then he stood, riveted, as the music filled the room. It was a tune he’d never heard, scratchy, tinny, but still beautiful, haunting. He started to turn to ask about the song, but the once-rusty voice cracked like a whip.
“Everyone watch. You,” he said to the couple on the floor. “Dance!”
Something in the voice, the music, maybe in both was compelling. Against his will, Drew found himself standing silently watching the dance as music flowed around him, about him, through him.
They danced well, and at first Drew was happy at their accomplishment. The unknown tune went on and on, longer than Drew expected, then longer than he thought possible. Drew had been watching for what seemed like hours, his leg and back muscles exhausted.
How do they keep dancing?
The song sped up, notes coming faster; the dancing couple followed suit. They whirled about the floor, faces visible by turns, one after the other… and as the song went on those faces changed.
They grew alarmed, then frightened, then frantic. The woman looked pained, calling toward them over her partner’s shoulder though Drew heard nothing but the music flowing from the old gramophone. The music played faster and they danced faster… and they began to age. Lines formed around mouths and eyes, deepening as he watched. Hair faded, lost color, and receded. They whirled and spun as the music reached a crescendo, mouths open in silent screams. He thought it all might be an hallucination until he felt Sharon trembling beneath his hands and knew she was seeing all this as well.
The withered dancers sagged like under-stuffed scarecrows as they came to a halt directly in front of the teachers bracketing the old Victrola. The song wound down, the music stopped, and the once-young couple gave one last, shuddery breath before falling to the floor, stone dead. Drew’s eyes found their way up to Dhavesh and Simone.
They stood straight, without apparent effort. They looked taller. Stronger. Their faces were still lined, though those lines were less pronounced, and there was a hint of color in their hair. Drew would have sworn the ancient couple looked… younger.
“Yes,” said Dhavesh, his voice strong. “Now I think he has some idea…”
His newly sharpened gaze found Drew and Sharon.
“A good start, but we have so much more to do. Next, please! Take your positions!”
Though he tried to stand still, though he strained to say ‘No!’, Drew found himself moving silently to take his position in the center of the floor. Sharon moved into his arms, pleading for him to do something with terrified eyes. All he could do was hold his position and feel her trembling against him.
There was a sharp skriiitch, and the music started.
They began to dance.
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